The Happy Hollows: Imaginary EP

This quirky Pixies-esque trio from L.A.’s Silver Lake scene is definitely one to watch. Their magnetic personality is a combination of the Dischord-influenced D.C. rhythm section of bassist Charlie Mahoney and drummer Chris Hernandez, and the zany Bay area vibe of singer/guitarist/songwriter Sarah Negahdari. Imaginary improves upon the Happy Hollows’ quickly-recorded 2006 debut EP, Bunnies and Bombs, by bringing them much closer to capturing their live energy. Two songs in particular stand out for having become highlights of the band’s live sets – “Lieutenant,” with its unconventional structure, multiple parts and Eddie Van Halen-style guitar theatrics, makes the case for Negahdari as a rising new guitar hero. “Colors,” meanwhile, is remarkable for completely different reasons: it’s unbelievably simple, just a recitation of the names of – you guessed it – colors, by Negahdari and Mahoney over a repeating progression, with a giddy breakdown in the middle. It works even better live, watching Mahoney and Negahdari jumping and shouting the colors during the breakdown, and seeing Negahdari toss her tambourine before jumping back into the rhythm without missing a beat. But the energy, passion, and unfiltered fun of the band comes through on the whole of Imaginary loud and clear. Best of all – it costs next to nothing. (Heart 2008)

The Happy Hollows MySpace page

The Reel Banditos: Indochina

Dig it: an all-instrumental groove-out with a theme about ‘Nam, maaaan. And believe me when I say that it being all-instrumental is this disc’s saving grace when it comes to the source of inspiration. After all, this could have turned into a heavy-handed, politically bent bad trip, and well, ‘Nam’s been done to death in both all seriousness and taking knocks in comedic circles. So sit back and dig the grooves of “Saigon ’67,” which features some groovy percussion, and a cool, toked-out vibe. “Huey” filrts with wah-wah guitars and ’70s Zappa-esque frippery and goes down well. “Jungle Warfare” is laden with heartbeats and a spooky dank ambiance that makes you feel as if you are there. Then there’s the crunchy “Poisoned Sky” which puts R.E.M.’s “Orange Crush” into its pithy place. By the time you make it to “The Fall of Saigon,” you’ll be ripped and spent. Why can’t more artists who feel the need to crank out conceptual chunder follow the Reel Banditos’ lead and just keep their pens quiet and their instruments cranked? Ya got me, but this is one of those left field oddities worth a good listen. (self-released)

Reel Banditos’ MySpace page

Social Code: He Said, She Said

There’s something that’s different from most power pop and Warped Tour fare when it comes to Canadian rock band Social Code. On the band’s debut US EP, He Said, She Said, Social Code sets itself apart from the pack a bit with a lot of guitar-driven energy and with Travis Nesbitt’s raspy vocal (think Hawthorne Heights and Fall Out Boy having a child). The title track is the kind of stuff that will give record labels and radio programmers a collective wet dream. But Social Code is just paying the bills with that and with the catchy but slightly grating “Beautiful.” That’s because the best tracks here are “Perfect Grave” and “The Shortest Line.” The former has a dark, melody-driven approach ala the Goo Goo Dolls, and could launch this band into superstardom if the right people hear it. Love it or hate it, this genre is still here to stay for a while, and Social Code is worth keeping your eyes and ears on. (LABEL: Fifth Season Music)

Social Code MySpace Page

Mr. Meeble: Never Trust the Chinese

Downtempo is a tricky sub-genre of electronic music. Everyone wants to be Massive Attack or the Orb and deliver the end-all-be-all of post-club chill out. But if you take it too chill and relaxing, then the next thing you know you’re Dirty Vegas, or even worse, easy listening or New Age. It’s a fine line. On their offensively-named debut Never Trust the Chinese, Mr. Meeble tread that line like a tightrope, showing signs of sedative brilliance before tripping and falling off into the safety net of “Days Go By” derivatives. It opens great, through; “Raindrops” is a pretty out-there cover of “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” that combines the ’70s cheese fest with occasional interludes of cut-up glitched vocals and an even more out-of-place rapping coda. It’s not exactly perfect, but it’s certainly unique. Other tracks, like the overly aggressive “A Ton Of Bricks” (apt name: it hits you like one) are jarring and obvious attempts for mainstream appeal that come off as soulless and empty.

All of Never Trust the Chinese is like this, going back and forth between the experimental and boring, the edgy and safe. This is a band of two minds, so much so that they even split up a song to demonstrate them both. “Everything Is Good (Part 1)” is an album highlight, a mostly instrumental sonic soundscape that engulfs you. But second part blows it all to hell by removing much of what made the first part so good and replacing them with dry, vapid and tone-deaf vocals. Never Trust the Chinese has all the trappings of a debut album by a band who has not yet found their sound. These guys need to throw a desire for a Top 40 fanbase to the wind and stick to the fringe, because they’ll definitely thrive there. (Absolute Motion 2008)

Mr. Meeble MySpace Page

Various Artists: Irish Hip Hop Volume 1

For any of those out there who are still listening to House of Pain’s “Jump Around” and wondering what other Irish hip hop might sound like – only, you know, in 2008 – this compilation of 20 such tracks may very well quench that desire. As could be expected, not everything here is top notch. Rira’s “25 O’Clock in the Mornin’” and CMC’s “Home” sounds pretty generic no matter how you slice it (and the “fuck that” asides are unintentionally funny). And the less said about Shaymin’s “Lassie,” the better. But The Elements’ “Nu Skool” sounds tight and funky in an old-school way, and Project 77′s “Takin’ on the Planet” throws an Irish female voice into the stew with decent results. Other tracks such as Jee4ce’s “Contact” and Ophelia’s “Revolutionary” hold their own, but for the most part this collection feels a bit stale and sounds more like a quick cash-in than a fully realized project. (80 Million Records)

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